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Saudi Arabia claims killing of senior Houthi leader

Riyadh confirmed it had ordered air strikes against Sammad after Houthi threats to fire rockets into Saudi
Sammad was head of the Houthi's supreme political council and based in Hodeida (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia confirmed it was behind the air strike that killed a senior Houthi leader last week, with the rebels threatening to avenge his death. 

Saleh al-Sammad, head of the Houthi's supreme political council, was killed on Thursday in the western province of Hodeida.

The Houthi rebels confirmed Sammad had died in an air strike on Monday.

"The heroes of the Royal Air Force were able to successfully target the leader of the Houthi militia Saleh al-Sammad," Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Khaled bin Salman, tweeted late on Tuesday.

"He vowed a couple of weeks ago to make 2018 the 'year of ballistic missiles on KSA.' The response to him was a direct hit under the leadership of HRH Minister of Defense."

"This crime will not go without punishment"

-  Abdul Malik al-Houthi 

The Houthis are battling the Saudi-backed Yemeni government - and a military coalition spearheaded by Riyadh - for control of the impoverished country. 

Salman said the strike was overseen by his brother, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), after Sammad threatened a wave of missile strikes against Saudi Arabia.

MBS, who is also the Saudi defence minister, has been the driving force behind Riyadh's intervention in the devastating Yemen war.

The conflict has claimed at least 10,000 lives in three years and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.

Sammad is the most senior Houthi leader to have been killed since the coalition intervened in March 2015 and his death is a significant blow to the Iranian-backed rebels.

Pro-Hadi activists welcomed Samad’s death, considering it a blow to the Houthis.

Yemen’s exiled government called his death “a painful blow to the Houthis that will shroud their political and military state with confusion," spokesman Rageh Badi told al-Riyadh newspaper.

He said that Samad's death sends a clear message to Houthi leaders that "Iranian terrorism" will lead to their demise.

Calls for revenge

The killing sparked threats of revenge by rebel chief Abdul Malik al-Houthi on Monday, who warned the "crime" would not "go unanswered".

"This crime will not pass without punishment; neither this nor other crimes like the targeting of a wedding in Hajjah province that left dozens dead and injured," al-Houthi said.

The Houthis have this year regularly launched ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia, which shares a land border with northern Yemen. One person has been killed in the attacks.

Coalition air strikes have hit many civilians, killing hundreds of people, yet Riyadh and its allies insist they only concentrate on military targets.

Late on Sunday, air strikes killed at least 20 people at a wedding in a village in northwestern Yemen, according to residents and medical sources.

Ports in Yemen, which is dependent on food imports for the survival of the population, remain blockaded by the Saudi-led coalition in retaliation for the missile strikes.

The United Nations has called the Yemen war the world's largest humanitarian catastrophe.

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